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18.6.07

BSO’s Season Finale at Strathmore

Marin Alsop
Maestra Marin Alsop
In the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's final regular season program, Marin Alsop conducted the music of Korngold, Dvořák, and Brahms before a full house at Strathmore. Possibly due to the recent pressures of the recording microphone, Dvořák’s Symphonic Variations on an Original Theme was performed impeccably well. It makes one wonder why this unified solidity of playing has not been present at all BSO performances. The tempo relationships between each variation were naturally balanced, contrasts emphasized, and Alsop seemed to be emoting more than directing. Even the fugue subject entrance by the double-basses was clear. A rare absence of flubs (not that there is anything wrong with one here or there) in Saturday’s live performance might promise that the recording will not require heavy editing. Look for a series of BSO Dvořák CDs to be released by Naxos -– I would suggest considering the disc containing the Symphonic Variations.

The Dvořák, which contains an abundance of melody, has a strong fabric of counterpoint beneath it; Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D Major does not. This makes the Korngold structurally weaker. Despite all of its lush orchestration (bass drones, vibraphone, and harp) and melody, one largely hears simple harmonies underneath. As soloist, BSO Concertmaster Jonathan Carney’s portamenti were lovely and unhurried, and his high-register playing was done with accuracy and ease. Korngold took many of the melodic lines from prior film scores, while the final movement contains material resembling Turkey in the Straw.

Alsop led Brahms’s Symphony No. 4 in E Minor with admirable weight and intensity from beginning to end. While the orchestra broadly matched the Maestra’s intensity, an overly dominant violin section created unbalance and a lack of the unity heard previously in the Dvořák. Memorable moments included the rich tone and broad phrasing of the principal oboist (though sometimes not present enough in the room), rhetorical flute solos (fourth movement), and a graceful horn section (second movement). By comparison with the National Symphony Orchestra's offering last week, the BSO presented the best weekend of season finale concerts in the region.

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